This morning I hopped on a bus, then another bus, then a train, then another bus and then humped it to the subway which dropped me about 25 meters and four floors away from my hostel: the dingy and abandoned-looking Actor’s and Backpacker’s Guesthouse.
This place is owned by a fellow traveler and self-proclaimed thespian. In the basement at most hours you can hear his troupe practicing their acts so loudly you’d think they’d been invited to Broadway. But it affords a nice view of the city and it’s right in the middle of two consignments of city fun. There’s food and bars where the hostel is. But not far away is the university quarter where the bars and nightlife are.
But using those two points as vectors for triangulation, just head south and you’ll hit the beach which I won’t get to see tonight, but plan on seeing tomorrow. Today agenda includes seeing the temple in the middle of town and eating strange, new things.
In my hostel were two journalists working for Samsung. And that might come as a shock to think of a writer/reporter and a photographer to be working for just an electronics company. But let me tell you a little bit about this little family business as it occurs in its home country of South Korea.
Samsung may only been seen as some small framing on your TV or stereo equipment. But here in Korea, they reign supreme. They are everywhere, are seen in everything and have their hands in just about every market you can think of. Here, the Samsung family makes cars, distributes medical supplies, owns hospitals, has a media enterprise and even has a line of ship-building compounds (the second largest in the world). They opened a theme park in 2002 called Samsung Everland Park. They have amassed several four-star hotels ranked within “2009’s World’s Best Top 100 Hotels” by Institutional Investor. There’s a branch of the Samsung group called Samsung Heavy Industries whose engineering firm was ranked 35th out of 225 global construction companies. Samsung has an entire city named after it, Samsung Town, where its headquarters are located. And they are currently the world’s largest technology production company.
It’s amazing what you don’t know about your world until you find yourself nestled smack in the middle of your most recent unexpected find while exploring the world.
Anyway, so the journalists seemed keen on hiking around the temples with me so we headed out the door and off to the subway.
Once at the temple, we couldn’t really see much because of some very strange crow-crazed speech that was underway by the time we got there. Some obviously influential speaker was rabble-rousing from center stage as people in the audience fell under his spell, donned funny, blue hats and listened intently as his propaganda blew out from the loudspeakers all around the temple. It was a little uncomfortable. But it seemed like most people were pretty okay with it.
Walking further, we could see that it was quite a lovely temple with lots of additional interest paid to the towers overlooking the city. And all around it were these really cool buildings peppered with little mini-gardens where Buddha was looking over them.
There was even crowd control in the form of shop owners playing with their toys in the street in order to attract attention – and hopefully sales. There were artists, painting passersby. There were people perched under huge, blow-up octopi. There were street venders really not wanting their photo taken. I saw shoemakers, people hanging around huge photos of athletes, ladies making breaded cookies out of these strange, tubed presses. There were even drunk people dancing in the street. It was, as Korea has proven to be, unexpected – a truly Korean experience.
[click on the photo to enlarge]
After leaving my fellow journalists at the scene of the temple, I headed back to the subway to see if I could make it back before my stomach chewed a hole through abdominal muscles. But on the way I noticed some interesting things about people on the midday trains.
As Forest Gump proclaimed, you can tell a lot about a person by their shoes. Generally, they tell you where they might be going. And, as one might expect, the midday traffic filling those shoes consisted mostly of out of work college students or business types. That was kind of a given. But what I liked the most about the train cars was that there was a section dedicated just for the old people. And I don’t think I have seen a single older lady in that section in between breakfast and dinner times. There are just always a couple of strange characters sitting there sleeping or reading the paper in their zoot suit – or the ever-present pocket vest. It’s strange that much fewer women appear on the trains during these times. But the guys that wind up napping the afternoon away really claim that section of the train. And even if the car is totally packed, you better not think of sitting in one of these spots unless you’re receiving a pension – or risk a cane whack to the shins.
Instead of making it to my destination, I got off on the wrong stop. I thought that I was headed in one direction on the train, but clearly was misinformed. I’d done pretty well up until that instance. But navigating the subways here is surprisingly easy. Nevertheless, as I poked around the entrance to the street-level stairway, I gathered that there was a beach nearby. So, rather than get frustrated and hop back on the train to spend another hour in transit, I figured I would just get something to eat while I was here and maybe scout out a different hotel to sleep in for the night. The place I’d booked, while filled with nice people, just wasn’t up to my cleaning standards.
Looking around, I found lots of food stands, restaurants, bars and lots of other places leading down to the beach. There were even the steamed silk worm larvae that I ate near the DMZ. So naturally I dove into a small bowl of those while I walked around. All along the beachfront, there was some pretty amazing architecture. Lots of hotels and apartments made up to look quirky added quite a bit to the ambiance of the area.
After lunch and sightseeing, I headed back to the subway to get off near a stop where I had heard of the “Dragon Temple.” This was supposed to be a temple built on the rocky coast nearby. It turned out to be pretty cool. There was a Buddha near the entryway whose belly had been rubbed so much that it started to get an oily polish to it. There were also life-sized sculptures of all the animals of the zodiac — complete with guards looking over them.
There were dragons on the columns, pagodas in the courtyards and even an intricately built bridge that welcomed visitors to the main area of the temple. But what i really thought was interesting were all the miniature pagodas lining all the stairways of the temple area.
They were made out of concrete, but they were all lighted from the inside and had little lanterns in them for when it was dark. I am sure that it makes for a great feel to the place after the sun goes down.
In between all of the statues and sconces are natural flora drooping in over them and growing in around them like a garden fighting for its real estate. But it’s not enough to make it seem overgrown. I think that it had a good mix of old and new worlds mixed in with the natural setting right there on the beach like that.
After the temple tour, I headed down to the street entrance where I noticed a restaurant and thought I would grab a bigger meal for dinner than I had for lunch. Bugs and soda only carry you so far. So I found the Hae Dong Yong Gung seafood restaurant and ordered some spicy soup with noodles. It was mostly a wildly thrown-together batch of octopus, shrimp, muscles and clams with pepper sauce, water and ink-stained noodles. It was good. It was hearty. But more importantly, it filled me up and I had enough energy to go back and see the area around the hostel that I didn’t get to see previously.
But, since I have used up my gallery for this blog already, I will continue that in part two of this journal entry.